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Mark Cook on the Eurovision final  
Our Euroblogger Mark gives us his final thoughts on Eurovision 2009...
Eurovision winners Norway. Photo c. Indrek Galetin (EBU)

I wouldn’t normally use a football expression to describe Eurovision but this year it was definitely a contest of two halves. The first was the stunning production of the songs – with its beautiful staging, the Russians have set a new benchmark; the second was the dull (unless you were Norwegian) voting as a landslide victory was evident after just a handful of countries delivering their scores. Alexander Rybak’s “Fairytale” achieved a record score and 16 douze points.

But the best UK entry in years at least kept us Union Jack wavers on the edge of our seats at Moscow’s Olympiyski Stadium. And we were not disappointed with Jade’s fifth place – an excellent result for her and the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Diane Warren-penned “It’s My Time.” It was good to be back on the left-hand side of the scoreboard. (Though those of us with each-way bets on the UK were miffed that we dropped from fourth on the last vote. Thanks Norway!)

Now that the two semi-final system has largely removed the dross from the final of the contest the standard of songs and presentation has improved hugely. Eurovision is a now a big, slick spectacular. For the traditional spectacle of schocks, frocks and schlock you have to look to the semi-finals, which are mainly watched by fans and people desperate to vote their own country through. The only jaw-dropping sights this year were the Albanian man in a green sequinned gimp suit and Ukraine’s kitchen sink entry with giant wheels and Roman gladiators in skimpy silver loincloths.

The entertainment acts from Cirque de Soleil and Fuerza Bruta (who appeared at London’s Roundouse theatre  a few years ago) certainly provided eye-popping entertainment. Odd, though, that none of the acts was home-grown.

There was some Russian flavour in the countdown to the broadcast when we were were warmed up with the singing of some traditional Russian songs and a slightly nationalist feel was engendered during the show by the occasional reference to what a great country Russia is. (Can you imagine that happening if the UK was hosting?)

For us veterans of the Eurovision circus (and this was my eighth contest) every Eurovision is different – each has it’s own specific flavour. I hadn’t been to Moscow since being a student there 30 years ago. Everyone may have mobile phones now and there are posh shops (back then you were hard pushed to find anything worth buying) but some things haven’t changed.

If I take one memory away from Moscow it is the heavy police presence – even leaving the contest, a long line of police directed us straight to the nearest Metro. No one was allowed to deviate into the surrounding streets. For goodness sake, Eurovision fans (and trust me on this) are not football hooligans. Instead of the usual socialising at the venue before the contest, when old friends are encountered once again, we were dragooned into our seats by unsmiling officials (we had already been bawled at by police with megaphones to get into the arena). And no alcohol was served. Finally, throughout the contest we had a suited security man with his back to the stage facing us with a glowering expression – his occasionally tapping toe the only proof that we was actually alive. All this while we were aware that a gay pride march had been banned that day by Moscow’s homophobic mayor and 20 protesters were arrested.

Younger Russians, though, seem more upbeat. As me and my companions, the inestimable Schlagerboys, swayed and waved our flags through Jade’s performance, various Russians came up and had their pictures taken in front of us and our Union Jacks. UK is cool in Russia, it seems.

So with the closing of Red Square on the day of the contest – the only chance some of us had to visit – it seemed that the authorities were destermined to suck any fun or spontaneity out of this year’s Eurovision for the fans. I’m sure the Russians would say that it was all done in the name of security but many of us agreed that, the fanatastic TV show notwithstanding, this was not a vintage overall experience.

So what does Moscow 2009 mean for the contest? The concerted attempt to prevent partisan voting by introducing the 50 per cent jury vote seems to have worked to some extent, though official figures will prove whether this is true. This year, the Scandinavians were worse offenders in this respect than Eastern Europe. The Norwegian victory, though, was never in question.

And for the UK entry next year? This has been a year of big change in the BBC’s approach to our entry and with Graham Norton taking over in the commentary box. Will the BBC mount another high-profile show to choose our song? The name of Gary Barlow has often been rumoured in connection with writing our song. That would be a result indeed.

It will be tough to come up with as terrific a performer as Jade Ewen, whose career is just starting with the release of her first album later this year. The contest means that she has been seen by millions, and Eurovision fans are very faithful to their favourites. Since winning Your Country Needs You, through the weeks of touring Europe to promote our entry, to Saturday’s performance, Jade has not put foot wrong – her charm and professionalism  has impressed everyone. All UK Eurovison fans wish her the very best.

So, from this particular fan, it’s Do Svidaniye from me  – and see you next year in Oslo!

Mark Cook (watching Eurovision since 1967)

Mark Cook is a journalist and theatre critic for the Guardian Guide and The Big Issue

Photo courtesy of Eurovision.tv

Posted on: 18th May 2009

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